Friday, January 1, 2010

Legislature needs to “step up to the plate” to protect Montana citizens.


Baxter v. Montana: The Montana Supreme Court Declines to rule on Constitutional Right to Assisted Suicide; Legislature needs to “step up to the plate” to protect Montana citizens.

On December 31, 2009, the Supreme Court of Montana issued a decision in which it declined to rule on a right to "aid in dying" based on the Montana State Constitution. Contrary to the spin provided by Compassion & Choices, the group formerly known as the Hemlock Society, the Montana Supreme Court in Baxter did not “legalize” assisted suicide in Montana. Instead, the Court narrowly ruled that a physician engaged in assisted suicide can invoke the “consent of the victim” defense to homicide charges.

According to Eileen Geller, Hospice RN and President of True Compassion Advocates, “In practice, this means that while assisted suicide is still not legal in Montana, the Court has nevertheless stripped vulnerable patients of important legal protections. The ruling is a "recipe for elder abuse" and for "the victimization of ill people.”

In his dissent in Baxter, Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice states:
“The Court has badly misinterpreted our public policy: assisting suicide has been explicitly and expressly prohibited by Montana law for the past 114 years.” With regard the consent of the victim to homicide, Rice cited long-standing legal precedent: “The policy of the law is to protect human life, even the life of a person who wishes to destroy his own. To prove that the victim wanted to die would be no defense to murder.”

According to George Mulcaire-Jones, MD, a physician who provides care to seniors, people with disabilities, and serious illnesses as part of his Butte, Montana family medicine practice:

“Montana physicians don’t want court-enforced protection from murder charges and they don’t want to commit assisted suicide on vulnerable people. People living with serious illness and chronic conditions need care and compassion from their physicians, not a handful of deadly drugs. Montana physicians need support in providing compassionate health care, not court-ordered insulation against homicide.”

Geller concluded:
“In Baxter, the Montana Supreme Court expressly declined to hold that a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide exists under the Montana constitution. The Montana legislature must now step up to the plate, re-affirm over a hundred years of Montana public policy, and protect elderly, ill, and Montanans with disabilities.”

For more information contact:

Eileen Geller, RN, BSN President of True Compassion Advocates


Dr. George Mulcaire-Jones, MD, Montana Family Practice physician

Cell Phone: 406.490.1998; Office: 406.496.3600;

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